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In-Class Activity
Preparing a Herbarium

Showy lady's slipper, Cypridedium reginae.

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  • large plastic bags
  • notebooks
  • pencils
  • press
  • recycled newspaper
  • squares of felt
  • corrugated cardboard
  • binder
  • perforated sheets
  • plastic sleeves
  • magnifying glasses
  • identification guides


Step 1: Collecting

  1. Use a big plastic bag. To keep your specimens cool, you can mist them with a little water or put a damp towel in the bag.
  2. For conservation purposes, pick only a few specimens of a single plant. For collecting purposes, it is important to collect the entire plant.
  3. Record the location and habitat of the specimens collected (e.g., on the bank of a pond).
  4. Lichens keep well in small envelopes.
  5. Once back at school, if you do not have time to continue the activity for a day or two, close the bag and put it in the refrigerator.

Step 2: Pressing

  1. Place the specimen between a sheet of newspaper folded in half. Fold the plant so it does not stick out past the edge of the sheet (e.g., the stem of a cattail would be folded in two or three).
  2. Place some felt under and over the sheet.
  3. Do the same with the corrugated cardboard.
  4. Repeat these steps for each specimen.
    Special case: to press algae or other aquatic plants, use a container that is several centimetres deep. Place a piece of paper on the bottom and add the water that has the algae. Carefully lift the paper while trying to centre the plant. Place the paper between a sheet of folded newspaper.
  5. Loosely fasten the press.

Step 3: Drying

  1. Place the press 3 m from a fan so that air passes through the corrugation of the cardboard.
  2. The felt will absorb the moisture. Twenty-four hours is usually enough.

Tests for plant dryness:

  • Open the press and touch the top of the sheet of newspaper. If it is still damp, continue drying.
  • Take out the leaf and hold it horizontally. If it stays in this position, you can move on to the next step. If the leaf droops, you need to continue drying for 24 hours.

Step 4: Mounting

  1. Use an ordinary binder and perforated paper that is protected in clear plastic sleeves.
  2. Glue each plant to the paper with little drop of white glue on the back.
  3. Label each plant with the following:
    • Name of plant
    • Location
    • Habitat
    • Date
    • Name of student.
  4. It is always interesting to illustrate the type of habitat observed by starting the binder off with a few pictures taken during the field work.
  5. An index can be added once the plants have been identified.
  6. Store the binder in a dark place (e.g., a drawer) because light will fade specimen colour.

Step 5: Identifying

Suggested References:

Farrar, J.L. (1995). Trees in Canada, Ottawa, Fitzhenry and Whiteside Ltd. and the Canadian Forest Service of Natural Resources Canada. 502 pp.

Lauriault, J. (2002). Identification Guide to the Trees of Canada. Fitzhenry and Whiteside Ltd. 479 pp.